'Instant messaging' the song and dance way

Nanyang Polytechnic's dikir barat team members (from left) Muhammad Aidil Azman, 19, with the tok juara; Masayu Nurulhuda Mohammed Shiddek, 21, with the anak rebana; Yasser Abqari Abdul Nassir Basalamah, 24, on the gong and chanang; Siti Munirah Aman
Nanyang Polytechnic's dikir barat team members (from left) Muhammad Aidil Azman, 19, with the tok juara; Masayu Nurulhuda Mohammed Shiddek, 21, with the anak rebana; Yasser Abqari Abdul Nassir Basalamah, 24, on the gong and chanang; Siti Munirah Aman, 19, who plays the tambourine; and Muhammad Asyraf Mohammed Ibrahim, 19, hugging his ibu rebana. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Dikir barat, a traditional art form that originated in the Malaysian state of Kelantan, has a "uniquely Singaporean flavour" when performed here, and is part of the Malay culture.

Mr Muhammad Asyraf Mohammed Ibrahim, 19, who has sung and played since he was in primary school, said Singapore groups tend to be more experimental, and veer away from the basic four-count rhythm.

In charge of the male performers in the dikir barat team in the Malay Cultural Group at Nanyang Polytechnic, he plays the rebana, a traditional Malay instrument.

Dikir barat, which combines singing, dancing and literature, is a way for performers to convey messages and advice, he said.

A group usually consists of a choir, lead singers and instrument players. His group writes its own lyrics and has covered topics such as the effects of social media and the erosion of family values.

The art is part of Singapore's intangible cultural heritage, which the National Heritage Board will soon document for a national inventory.

"We are from the generation that can continue such traditions. The older ones are retiring. It's up to us to keep it going," Mr Asyraf said.

Jalelah Abu Baker

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 19, 2016, with the headline ''Instant messaging' the song and dance way'. Print Edition | Subscribe